October 12: Revelation 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12

This is the second of three episodes in the vision of Chapter 12. In the first episode (vv. 1-6, cf. the previous note), there was portrayed a conflict on earth, in which a mythical dragon-being attacks a woman and her children. The detail would make clear to any Christian reader that it was a narrative regarding the birth of Jesus (as the Messiah) and his life on earth, but told in mythological language familiar to many in the Greco-Roman world, such as in the tale of the Serpent (Python) that threatened the divine child (Apollo) and his mother (Leto). This conflict on earth is picked up again in verse 13, but in between, in verses 7-12, there is narrated a parallel conflict in heaven. This yields the following outline of the chapter:

    • Vv. 1-6: Conflict on earth—The woman and her child are threatened by the dragon
      —Vv. 7-9: War in heaven—Victory of Michael and the (good) Angels
      —Vv. 10-12: War in heaven—Victory Hymn, with praise and warning
    • Vv. 13-17: Conflict on earth—The woman and her children are threatened by the dragon

This generally reflects the ancient (religious) mindset that events and details on earth have their corresponding counterpart in heaven. In particular, conflict (or war) on earth could be indicated, or presaged, by clashes in the heavens (cf. 2 Macc 5:1-4; Josephus War 6.298-9; Lucan Pharsalia 1.578; Tacitus Histories 5.13; Koester, p. 547).

Revelation 12:7a

The conflict in heaven is introduced with the opening statement:

“And there came to be war in the heaven—Mîka’el and his Messengers with the Fabulous (Creature).” (v. 7a)

The heavenly being Mîka’el (la@k*ym!, Greek Mixah/l, Michael), whose name means “Who is like the Mighty One [°E~l, i.e. ‘God’]?”, is a leading Angelic figure, according to Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Daniel 10:13ff; 12:1ff; 1 Enoch 20:5; 24:6; 40:9-10, etc) . The structure of the narrative here indicates that, at the same time as the “Fabulous Creature” (dra/kwn) is attacking the Woman and her children (on earth), he/it is also engaged in battle in heaven.

There is a longstanding and well-established tradition of Angelic warfare, which is similar, in many respects, to the wars between the Gods in various Near Eastern (and Greco-Roman) cosmological myths. Such myths are typically cosmogonic (and theogonic), corresponding to the beginning and process of creation, in which the current world order was established. And, indeed, Jewish traditions regarding the Angelic battle also tend to be set in the primeval time, though the conflict is seen as extending into the present as well (cf. 1 Enoch 6-10; Life of Adam and Eve 12-16; Ascension of Isaiah 7:9-12, etc). Michael plays a key part in this conflict, serving also as the heavenly Protector of God’s people (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; 1 Enoch 20:5; and in the Qumran War Scroll [1 QM]). Jude 9 preserves an earlier Jewish tradition in which Michael contends with the Devil (over the body of Moses). He is also depicted as binding the rebellious Angels in anticipation of their ultimate Judgment (1 Enoch 10:11; 54:6).

Revelation 12:7b-8

“The Fabulous (Creature) made war, and (also) his Messengers (with him), and (yet) they did not have strength (enough) and their place was found (to be) no longer in the heaven.” (vv. 7b-8)

The idea that the Devil (or the Satan) has Angels who support him, and fight on his side, simply reflects the ancient tradition of the Angels who rebelled against God’s established order. It is, however, also specified in passages such as 1 Enoch 54:6; Testament of Dan 6:1; and Matthew 25:41. Under the name Belial, the Evil One (Satan) is depicted as ruler of evil spirits, such as in several of the Qumran texts; also by the title Mastêmâ (Jubilees 10:7ff) and the ancient Canaanite Ba’al-zebul (Mark 3:22). Here, the defeat of the Dragon’s army is described by two phrases:

    • “they did not have strength (enough)” [ou)k i&sxusen]—i.e. they lost the battle, and
    • “their place [to/po$] was found (to be) no longer in heaven” —that is, as a result of the battle, and as punishment for their hostility, they were no longer allowed to reside in heaven

This last point assumes that they previously had been residing in heaven; in the case of the Satan, his presence in heaven is part of the earliest tradition (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Zech 3:1).

Revelation 12:9

“And (so) was thrown (out) the great Fabulous (Creature)—the snake of the beginning, the (one) being called ‘(the One) casting (evil) throughout’ and ‘the Satan‘, the (one) making the whole inhabited (earth) go astray—he was thrown (down) onto the earth, and his Messengers were thrown (down) with him.” (v. 9)

The core tradition is that of the rebellious Angels begin thrown out of heaven, down onto/into the earth (cf. above). However, the visionary here also specifically identifies the mythological Dragon with the Evil One, using a series of titles and descriptive terms:

    • “the snake of the beginning” (o( o&fi$ o( a)rxai=o$)—that is, the Serpent of Genesis 3. Christians were not the first to make such an identification, i.e. of the Satan/Devil with the Serpent, as it had already been established in Jewish tradition (1 Enoch 69:6; Wisdom 2:24; Apocalypse of Moses 16; Apocalypse of Abraham, etc; Koester, p. 549). Here it may also indicate that the “Fabulous Creature” had a snake-like appearance.
    • “the (one) casting (evil) throughout”, or, “the (one) throwing over (accusations/insults)” —this is a literal rendering of the Greek dia/bolo$, typically left transliterated in English as devil, or “the Devil”.
    • “the Satan”, Satana=$ in Greek being a transliteration of the Hebrew /f*c*(h^), “(the) adversary”, “(the) accuser”. Cf. below on verse 10.
    • “the (one) making the whole inhabited (earth) go astray” —this descriptive phrase is centered on the verb plana/w, (“stray, wander”, transitive “cause to stray”). This reflects the basic idea of the Devil as one who both tempts and deceives human beings—cf. Matt 4:1-11 par; John 8:44; 1 Cor 7:5; 2 Cor 11:14; Rev 20:8ff, etc.

For those wishing to place the rebellion and expulsion of Satan (and his Angels) into a specific historical or chronological setting, this passage is problematic, since, on the surface, it suggests that this did not occur until after Jesus’ birth. As mentioned above, Jewish tradition tends to set this event in primordial times (some would interpret Isa 14:12-15 and Ezek 28:16-17 in a similar manner, though this is questionable at best). However, far more important is the symbolism involved—that of the defeat of the forces of evil, represented by the Dragon and his heavenly allies. The expulsion, or casting down out of heaven, serves primarily as a literary device, focusing the conflict with evil entirely on earth. The parallel conflict in heaven has been eliminated. Moreover, the manifest presence of these evil forces on earth also symbolizes the increase of wickedness and persecution that is to occur in the period of distress before the end. There had already been earthly forces of evil (corresponding to the heavenly), but now they are strengthened greatly by the concentrated presence (and power) of the heavenly forces on earth.

A second aspect of the symbolism here is fundamentally Christological; that is, the defeat of the evil powers coincides with Jesus’ presence and work on earth. This idea is expressed at a number of points in the Gospel tradition, most notably the statement by Jesus in Luke 10:18:

“…I looked at the Satan falling out of the heaven as a flash (of lightning).”

Jesus sent out his disciples to minister as his representatives (vv. 1-12), and gave them authority over the evil spirits, etc, this latter point being made only upon their return (vv. 18-19). The disciples’ power over evil spirits (responsible for disease, etc), an extension of Jesus’ own power, is symbolized in terms of the defeat of Satan. It would seem that a similar line of thought is expressed here in Revelation 12 as well.

Revelation 12:10-12

Following the defeat of the Dragon, there is a hymn of praise, introduced generally with the statement, “And I heard a great voice in the heaven saying…”. It is essentially all of heaven that is speaking, i.e. all the holy ones and heavenly beings collectively; from the standpoint of the visionary imagery in the book of Revelation, this must be understood as the people of God in their heavenly aspect:

“Now has come to be the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the e)cousi/a of His Anointed, (in) that [i.e. because] the (one who) brings down (accusation) on our brothers was thrown (down), the (one) bringing down (accusations) in the sight of our God day and night.” (v. 10)

The characterization of the Evil One (i.e. the Dragon) as kath/gwr (vb kathgore/w) reflects the earliest (and primary) aspect of the Satan tradition, as expressed in Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Zech 3:1, where he accuses people of wrongdoing before God’s throne (as a judicial tribunal). This aspect is generally not present in the New Testament, the role of the Satan/Devil having taken on a more common and overtly hostile dimension—i.e. deception, incitement to evil, etc. Thus the visionary here is drawing more directly upon the Old Testament tradition in describing the Satan.

The expression “our brothers”, in referring to human believers, shows the solidarity of heavenly beings with earthly beings, and demonstrates again the dual-aspect of the People of God—both heavenly and earthly. And it is with the heavenly defeat of the Dragon—the earthly defeat being yet to come—the Kingdom of God is now fully realized, at least for those in heaven; however, the promise this message brings for those on earth is also of the greatest significance. Here the “Kingdom” is comprised of salvation (swthri/a) and power (du/nami$), reflecting two interrelated aspects of God’s dominion over Creation: it is defined as the power to deliver people from the forces of evil. This power was demonstrated in the heavenly battle, but also through the saving work of Jesus on earth. The exalted Jesus is here identified as the “Anointed One”, with the e)cousi/a (i.e. ability, authority) to rule alongside God Himself.

“And they were victorious over him through the blood of the Lamb and through the account of their witness, and (that) they did not love their souls until death.” (v. 11)

Here “they” refers to believers on earth, who are facing suffering and persecution in the end time period of distress (described in the following vv. 13-17). This has been an important theme throughout the book, beginning especially with the letters to the seven churches (chaps. 2-3), where the endurance of persecution while still remaining faithful is defined as “being victorious” (vb nika/w)—cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21. Ultimately this victory stems from the sacrificial work (i.e. death and resurrection) of Jesus himself (Jn 16:33). The verb nika/w may be characterized as a Johannine term, occurring seven times in the Gospel and First Letter, and another 17 in the book of Revelation—24 out of 28 occurrences in the New Testament. Both the motifs of Jesus as the Lamb and the Gospel message of Jesus as witness are fundamental to the visionary language and imagery of the book. On the importance of believers enduring suffering even to the point of death, cf. Mark 8:34-37 par; 10:38-39 par; 13:12-13 par; Luke 17:33 par; John 12:25, and frequently throughout the book of Revelation.

“Through this you should be of a good mind, (you) heavens, and (you) the (one)s putting down (their) tent [i.e. dwelling] in them—(but) woe to the earth and the sea! (for it is) that the (one) casting (evil) throughout (has) stepped down toward you holding a great impulse (for destruction), having seen that he holds (only) a little time.” (v. 12)

The concluding statement of praise turns into an exhortation for believers in the present, shifting the attention from heaven to earth (the setting of the next episode in vv. 13-17). The heavens, and the heavenly beings, are called on to rejoice, since God’s Kingdom is now fully realized in heaven and the Devil has been cast out. But for the earth, the defeat of the forces of evil and the realization of God’s Kingdom must yet wait, at least until a short period of intense distress and persecution has passed. Believers, the children of the Woman (i.e. the People of God), must endure this period, which involves also great suffering for all of humankind (as expressed in the prior visions of chapters 6-9). This time of suffering will be relatively brief—symbolized by 3½ years—and, according to the declaration here, the Dragon is fully aware that he only has a short amount of time, and so must act aggressively. The work kairo/$ typically indicates a point or moment (rather than a period) of time, but can also refer to a particular occasion or opportunity; thus the concluding phrase could be rendered “knowing he has only a few moment(s left)”, or “knowing he has little opportunity (left to act)”. In any case, these words emphasize again for readers the imminence of the coming end.

The conjunction of the earth (gh=) with the sea (qa/lassa) foreshadows the dual-vision in chapter 13. Before exploring that vision, we must first examine the third and final episode of chapter 12 (vv. 13-17) in the next note of this series.

References marked as “Koester” above, and throughout this series, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

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Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Dan 7:13-14

Daniel 7:13-14

Dan 7:13-14, which would prove to be enormously influential on eschatological and Messianic thought, both in Judaism and in early Christianity, itself holds a central place in chapter 7 of the book of Daniel (for the structure of the chapter, cf. below). It is part of the heavenly Throne-vision in vv. 9-12, similar to other such visions in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—1 Kings 22:19ff; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; 3:22-24; 10:1, cf. also 1 Enoch 14:18-23; 60:2; 90:20, etc (Collins, p. 300). The throne is said to have wheels, and thus is to be understood as a chariot-throne, which draws upon ancient Near Eastern mythic imagery, associated with heavenly/celestial phenomena—i.e. the fiery chariot of the sun, etc—and the divine powers which control them. For chariot imagery related to God and Heaven in the Old Testament, cf. 2 Kings 23:11; Psalm 68:17; 104:3; Isa 66:15; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:15-21; 10:2. The idea of God’s chariot-throne would play an especially important role among the Jewish visionary mystics of the Merkabah/Hekhalot tradition.

Interestingly the text of verse 9 reads “the thrones [pl. /w`s*r=k*] were set [lit. thrown, i.e. into place]”, and there is some question as to the use of the plural here. It probably should be taken as indicative of the setting—the heavenly Council or Court. In ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) tradition, the high deity °E~l (generally identified with YHWH in the Old Testament) presides over the Council of the gods; in the context of Israelite monotheism, the “gods” (°¢lîm/°§lœhîm) are created heavenly beings (i.e. Angels) who sit in the Council—Psalm 82:1; 89:7; Job 1:6, etc. For an elaborate description of the Angels surrounding the chariot-throne of God, cf. the so-called “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice” (4Q400-407, 11Q17) from Qumran, esp. 4Q405 frags. 20, 23 (11Q17 cols. 7-10); and in early Christian tradition, note Matt 25:31, as well as the (Christian?) corollary of human beings on the thrones surrounding God/Christ (Matt 19:28; Rev 4:2ff; 20:4). Cf. Collins, p. 301.

On the throne is seated the /ym!oy qyT!u^ (±attîq yômîn), usually translated as “(the) Ancient of Days”, with the adjective qyT!u^ understood (on the basis of its cognates in Hebrew) as “advanced”, either in the sense of age or of prominence and wealth (majesty, etc). This image is likely drawn from the mythic-religious tradition of depicting the high God °E~l as an elderly patriarch (with long white/grey beard), though here it has been adapted to traditional Israelite visionary images of the glory of God (El / YHWH)—Exod 24:9-11; 1 Kings 22:19ff; Isa 6:1-5; Ezek 1. Verse 9b-10a vividly depicts the divine figure seated on his fiery chariot-throne, with countless multitudes (of heavenly beings) serving him. The vision scene in 1 Enoch 14:15-23 provides an interesting comparison.

From verses 11-12 it is clear that the Heavenly Council is also the Court, with God ruling as Judge (Psalm 82, etc). Judgment is brought against the Beasts of the earlier part of the vision (vv. 2-8, cf. below)—a sentence of death is pronounced and executed against one Beast (the fourth), while the others are stripped of their kingdoms but allowed to live for a time. It is in this context that verses 13-14 must be understood:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

This figure comes near and approaches the “Ancient of Days”, and is given authority/rule (/f*l=v*), honor/glory (rq*y+), and (a) kingdom (Wkl=m^), so that “all the peoples, nations and tongues [i.e. languages] would serve him”. The question as to the identity of this “(one) like a son of man” has long vexed commentators, leading to a variety of interpretations, some more plausible than others. In terms of the original context of the vision in the book of Daniel, I would suggest three basic possibilities regarding this figure:

    1. Symbolic—he represents the Kingdom of God or the people of God (and their dominion)
    2. Real, but archetypal—i.e. he is the heavenly archetype of humankind (“son of man”), specifically the righteous/holy ones (people of God)
    3. Real, and personal—he is a real heavenly being, an Angel such as Michael who represents the people of God, supporting and protecting them, etc.

Sound arguments can be made for each of these:

1. The symbolic view is supported by the structure of the passage (chapter 7) itself, where the “(one) like a son of man”, and the kingdom he receives, is set parallel with the people of God (and they kingdom they receive), cf. below. Also, this figure resembling a human being is clearly meant as a contrast with the four “beasts” of vv. 2-8; since they are taken to represent four earthly kingdoms (in their savagery and violence), it is logical that the human being likewise represents the kingdom of the people of God.

2. The same parallelism could just as well be interpreted in an archetypal sense—that the heavenly “son of man” is the type/pattern for the righteous/holy ones on earth. This certainly seems to be the way that Daniel 7 was expounded and interpreted in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st-century A.D.?), and also, to some extent, by the Qumran community (cf. below).

3. It is the third view, however, which seems best to fit the immediate context and thought-patterns in the book of Daniel. Angels are prominent in the second half of the book, and are generally depicted in human terms (Dan 8:15; 9:21; 10:5; 12:5-7; cf. also 3:25), as they often are elsewhere in the Old Testament (Gen 18:2; Josh 5:13; Judg 13:6, 8, 16; Ezek 8:2; 9-10; Zech 1:8; 2:5, cf. Collins, pp. 306-7). A specific identification with the chief Angel (Archangel) Michael is possible, given his comparable role and position in Dan 12:1 (cf. also 10:13, 21). The “(one) like a son of man” should probably be understood as a real heavenly being, at least similar to an (arch)Angel such as Michael. This does not eliminate the parallelism or corollary with the people of God, as is clear enough by the evidence from Qumran (on this, cf. below).

Before proceeding, it may be helpful to examine the structure of Daniel 7 in outline form:

  • V. 1: Narrative introduction/setting
  • Vv. 2-14: The Vision of the Four Beasts
    —The Four Beasts (vv. 2-8)
    —The Ancient of Days who presides in Judgment over the Beasts (vv. 9-12)
    —The Son of Man who receives the everlasting kingdom/dominion (vv. 13-14)
  • Vv. 15-27: The Interpretation of the Vision
    —Basic outline/explanation: Four Kingdoms (vv. 15-18)
    —The Kingdom of the Fourth Beast (vv. 19-25)
    —Judgment and the Kingdom of the People of God (vv. 26-27)
  • V. 28: Conclusion

Verses 13-14 and 26-27 are clearly parallel in several respects:

    • Judgment in the Heavenly Court (vv. 9-12, 26)
      • Kingdom taken away from the Beast(s)
    • Everlasting Kingdom/Dominion
      • Given to the “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14)
      • Given to the “people of the Holy Ones of the Most High” (v. 27)

Interestingly, we find the same basic paradigm, it would seem, in the Pseudo-Daniel (Aramaic) text 4Q246 from Qumran, which was certainly influenced by Daniel 7.

An important point lies in the way that heavenly and human beings are united in the term “holy ones” (Heb. <yvdwq, Aram. /yvydq). Although a few instances are uncertain or disputed, the majority of occurrences of the plural “holy ones” in the Old Testament would seem to refer to heavenly beings (i.e. Angels)—Deut 33:2; Psalm 89:5, 7; Job 5:1; 15:15; Dan 4:17; Zech 14:5, and cf. also the LXX of Exod 15:11. The only clear instances where “holy ones” refer to human beings (on earth) are in Deut 33:3 (cf. the par with verse 2); Psalm 16:3; 34:10. Especially significant is the usage in the Qumran texts, which in many ways are close to the eschatological/apocalyptic imagery and thought-world of Daniel, and, indeed, were certainly influenced by the book. The Qumran Community saw itself as connected with the Angels—the holy/righteous ones on earth, corresponding to the Holy Ones in Heaven; this was a key aspect of their self-understanding, in particular, of their eschatological role and identity. Indeed, they referred to themselves as “congregation of the holy ones”, and in 1QM 10:10; 12:7; 1QH 11:11-12 we find the very expression (“people of the holy ones”) as in Dan 7:27; note also the variant formula “holy ones of the people” (1QM 6:6; 16:1). On the relation between the Community and the Angels, and their inter-connection, cf. especially in the War Scroll (1QM 12:7, etc), passages in the Rule documents (1QSa 2:8-9; 1QSb 3:25-26; 4:23-25), and in the Hymns (1QH 3:21-22; 4:24-25; 11:11-12). For these and other references, cf. Collins pp.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71), which may well be contemporary with Jesus and the earliest Gospel tradition, there is an equally clear, and (in some ways) even more precise correspondence between the holy/righteous ones on earth and in heaven—1 Enoch 39:5; 47:2; 51:4, etc. It is indicated that their true nature and position will be revealed at the end-time Judgment (1 En 38:4-5). The Son of Man is their ideal/archetypal heavenly representative (the Righteous One, the Elect One); in the concluding chapters 70-71, we see how Enoch himself, as the first human being to be raised to heavenly status, is identified with this Son of Man, apparently merging/assimilating with him in some way.

What of the traditional interpretation of the “one like a son of man” with the Messiah in Jewish thought? Apart from the possible example of 4Q246 from Qumran, this association does not seem to have been clearly formed until the 1st century A.D. In the Similitudes of Enoch, the Son of Man figure, certainly inspired by Daniel 7, is specifically called “(the) Anointed One” (1 En 48:10; 52:4); cf. also the context in 2/4 Esdras 13 (late 1st-century A.D.). The Messianic interpretation came to be the dominant view in Rabbinic literature (b. Sanh. 89a; Num. Rabbah 13:14, et al); even the plural “thrones” in Dan 7:9 could be understood in this light (one throne for God, one for the Messiah), as traditionally expressed by R. Akiba (b. Chag. 14a; b. Sanh. 38b). For early Christians, of course, the Messianic interpretation was applied to the person of Jesus—first in terms of his exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (from whence he will come at the end-time Judgment), and subsequently, in terms of his pre-existent deity. According to either strand of tradition and belief, his divine/heavenly status and position was superior to that of the Angels, just as the “one like a son of man” would seem to hold a special and exalted place in the context of Daniel 7. The identification of Jesus with this divine/heavenly figure appears to go back to the (authentic) early layers of Gospel tradition, and the Son of Man sayings by Jesus himself (for more on this, see in Part 10, and the additional supplemental note).

References marked “Collins” above are to John J. Collins’ commentary on Daniel in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993), esp. pages 299-323.

11QMelchizedek

This article discusses the second of two Qumran texts which provide interesting parallels to early Christian ideas regarding the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah). The first of these texts (4Q521) was dealt with in an earlier article; the second is 11Q13, better known as 11QMelch[izedek] because of the prominent role of Melchizedek in the surviving portion(s) of the text.

11Q13 is made up of thirteen fragments; numbers 1-4 comprise a significant block, and, indeed, the bulk of the text. The remaining fragments make up a very small portion. The text dates from sometime in the mid-1st century B.C.; but, as is normally the case with these scrolls fragments, it is virtually impossible to establish the overall extent, scope, or contents of the work. It was first published in 1965 by A. S. van der Woude; the critical edition was prepared by F. García Martínez, E. J. C. Tigchelaar, and van der Woude, and published in Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) Vol. XXIII, 221-241, pl. XXVII.

The main surviving block (col. 2, lines 1-25) is relatively intact, in spite of a number of gaps, enough to give us a clear and vivid sense of what is being described. This portion is unquestionably eschatological in orientation, with a strong dualistic approach. In this regard, it has certain features in common with works such as the War Scroll (1QM) and the Community Rule (1QS), which were central to the Community’s religious (and sectarian) identity.

The first lines establish an important Scriptural theme: the Jubilee year, an ancient Israelite tradition, described via citations from Leviticus 25:13 and Deuteronomy 15:2. The Jubilee year provides the chronological (and theological) framework for the eschatological events discussed in this section. Actually, there is a chain of Scripture passages involved, reflecting a distinctive kind of pesher (commentary) approach, seen in a number of Qumran texts, such as the famous Florilegium (4Q174), as well as the Testimonia (4Q175) and Catenae (4Q177, 4Q182). Like 11Q13, these commentary texts are eschatological (and Messianic) in outlook, with the distinct view (shared by early Christians) that the faithful Community held a central position with regard to the coming end-time events. We may outline the commentary chain in 11Q13 as follows:

  • Scripture:
    Lev 25:13; Deut 15:2—The Jubilee Year, the year of release and return. [Lines 1-3]
    Interpretation (pesher):
    God’s people, currently being held captive, will be released in the last days (soon to be realized), returning to the place where they belong. They belong to Melchizedek as “sons of light”, and it is Melchizedek who will bring about their release and return. Melchizedek has the authority to rule and judge, standing in a position over the holy ones. [Lines 4-9]
    • Scripture:
      Psalm 82:1-2 (+ 7:8-9)—God (Elohim) will act as Judge of the peoples. [Lines 10-11]
      Interpretation (pesher):
      God is about to judge Belial, the spirits under his control, and all the wicked (nations/people) over whom he rules. This judgment will be carried out by Melchizedek, who will also rescue the righteous from the power of Belial. [Lines 12-14]
      • Scripture:
        Isaiah 52:7—This time of release/rescue is the day of peace prophesied by Isaiah, the coming of a messenger announcing good news to the afflicted and declaring the truth about God to his people (“you God rules”) [Lines 16ff]
      • Interpretation (pesher):
        The messenger of Isa 52:7 is identified as an Anointed ruler (and teacher/prophet) who will comfort and instruct the faithful ones, announcing their deliverance. He is also identified specifically with the figure mentioned in Dan 9:25. The faithful ones are the congregation, i.e. the Community (“Zion”), who walk faithfully according to the Torah, the Prophets, and the precepts of the Community. Melchizedek acts in God’s place, freeing his people. [Lines 17ff]
        • Scripture:
          Leviticus 25:9 {the text ends here with the beginning of this citation} [Line 25b]

This surviving section provides us with a rare and precious window into a complex line of interpretation, involving a range of theological, eschatological, and Messianic associations. Central to any subsequent interpretation, on our part, is an understanding of what the author (and/or the Community) meant by the figure of Melchizedek. Clearly, a line of tradition is at work which goes far beyond the Canaanite priest-king of the ancient Abraham traditions in Genesis 14, and even beyond the royal theology expressed in Psalm 110 (on this, see my note on Ps 110:1). Scholars have debated here whether Melchizedek was envisioned as representing (a) an angelic/heavenly savior, or (b) a Messianic, but human, priest-king. Sound arguments can be made in favor of each view; however, I believe that such a distinction itself may obscure the thought-world that governs this text. The key, I think, is in the central Scripture cited in the text (cf. above), that of Psalm 82:1-2. Melchizedek is identified as one who stands (as Elohim) in God’s place, in the midst of the divine assembly (“in the midst of the gods [elohim]”). This would indicate that he is a divine/heavenly being himself, also evidenced by the expression “the year of favor (belonging) to Melchizedek” [qdx yklml /wxr tnv] in line 9, an adaptation of “the year of favor (belonging) to YHWH” [hwhyl /wxr tnv] in Isa 61:2a.

Such a view is confirmed by the dualistic contrast with Belial, who is elsewhere in the Qumran texts (1QM 13:10ff; 17:6-7, etc) set against the heavenly (Angel) Michael, also called by the title “Prince of Light” (even as Belial is “Prince of Darkness”). Moreover, in fragment 2 of the text 4Q544 (cf. also 4Q280), Belial is identified by the name Melchiresha [i.e. Wicked Ruler], an exact (negative) corollary to the name Melchizedek [Righteous Ruler]. In Jewish tradition, influenced largely (though not necessarily exclusively) by the book of Daniel (10:13ff; 12:1ff), Michael functions as heavenly protector and end-time deliverer of Israel, a conception which was retained by early Christians (Rev 12:7ff). The identification of Melchizedek with Michael was made explicit in later Jewish midrashim.

While this interpretation would seem to be correct, the dualistic worldview of the Qumran Community was actually a bit more complicated. Several texts make clear that the Community viewed itself as the “holy ones”—an earthly manifestation parallel to the heavenly reality of the “Holy Ones” (i.e. Angels/Spirits), both being identified as “sons of light”. Just as the Angel/Spirits were led by the “Prince of Light” (Michael), so the Community would be led by the “Prince of the Congregation” (Messiah). Both figures would appear, in tandem, at the end time to deliver the holy ones from the power of Belial (Prince/Spirit of Darkness and deceit, etc). This two-fold Messianic conception seems to explain the apparent ambiguity surrounding the citation of Isaiah 52:7, a (deutero-)Isaian passage which was understood in a Messianic sense by the time this text was written. The (Anointed) herald who brings the good news of deliverance is identified with the coming Anointed ruler prophesied in Daniel 9:25. Two distinct Messianic figure-types are thus brought together, to which are added two others associated here with Melchizedek, creating a complex of four; I outline these as follows:

    • Anointed One (Messiah)
      • Prophet/Herald (Isa 52:7)
      • Davidic Ruler (Dan 9:25)
    • Heavenly Deliverer (Melchizedek/Michael)
      • Ruler and Judge
      • Atoning Priest

Such an interconnection of Messianic figure-types is otherwise found only in the New Testament and early Christian tradition, applied to the identity of Jesus as the Messiah (I discuss all of these, in detail, in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The personage of “Melchizedek” also appears in the New Testament, applied to Jesus, in Hebrews 7, where we find an extensive interpretation of the Old Testament figure, both as he appears in Genesis 14 and the mention in Psalm 110. There is some evidence that the author of Hebrews may be drawing upon a line of tradition similar to that of 11Q13—i.e., the identity of Melchizedek as a heavenly/divine figure. For more on this, cf. Part 9 of “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplementary note on Ps 110:1 and the supplementary study on Hebrews.

The priestly aspect of Melchizedek (lines 7-8 of col. ii)—i.e. his act of atonement for the “sons of light”—will be discussed in more detail in the next Dead Sea Scroll Spotlight article, on the text 4Q541.